Cargo Fever, published by Tindal Street Press in 2007, is a philosophical romp that takes as its starting point Indonesian stories of the orang pendek – literally “short man”, a kind of diminutive tropical yeti — to explore the sometimes fuzzy boundaries between gods, human beings, animals, and other kinds of others.
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Buckingham is a wonderful storyteller and paints a vivid picture of Indonesian life… Another triumph for this small Birmingham publisher.”Birmingham PostCargo Fever is my first novel. It was closely based on my own experience of living in the Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia, and was published back in 2007 by Tindal Street Press.
Buckingham is a wonderful storyteller and paints a vivid picture of Indonesian life. Without knowing it, the reader is quickly drawn in and learns a lot about the traditional ways of life there… but it is his humour and his lively style that ensure the pages just keep on turning. Another triumph for this small Birmingham publisher.Birmingham Post
One-off, weird and wonderful and immediately engaging…Jean Morris
Buckingham’s first novel is an atmospheric caper tale set among the lush islands of Indonesia. Sam Rivers, a gullible expat English teacher, allows his soft heart to draw him into a scheme to sell a captured mythical creature to Australia, even though it endangers his engagement to Jakartan native and former student Fon. Things go wrong from the start as Sam falls ill with a fever, and the Gugu, the mythical Indonesian creature, escapes. The exotic setting and abundance of supernatural elements contrast divinely with the delightful and fully fleshed village characters, from the austere Dutch priest to the elderly witch doctor, who heals Sam of his fever. In an increasingly comic train of events, Sam and his fellows track the creature across the island, following reports of blissfully happy but apparently ravaged young maidens. The supernatural elements, exotic setting, and Sam’s feverish mind all lend a touch of the surreal, leaving the reader wondering at the end if it was all a dream. Great fun for general-fiction readers with a taste for comic adventure.The Bookseller
A gripping and rapid pace from page one; Cargo Fever is both surprising and intriguing… The writing style and diverse characters capture the imagination, making it a challenge for anyone to put down… If not to your usual taste, take a chance on Cargo Fever; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, light-hearted and unpredictable read.Real Travel Magazine
The exotic setting and abundance of supernatural elements contrast divinely with the delightful and fully-fleshed village characters. Great fun for the general-fiction reader with a taste for comic adventure.”Booklist
Refreshing in its determination to revive an apparently stagnant literary genre. The sheer ambition of Cargo Fever marks Buckingham out as a name to watch.Transition Tradition Blog
Buckingham skilfully weaves together his disparate narrative strands, before bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion, resulting in a novel that is gripping, thought provoking and entertaining in equal measure.UC Magazine
Cargo Fever is certainly a gripping adventure story, but it’s also an intriguing contribution to the the genre of the ape-monster story. Cargo Fever is a thrilling and thoughtful read, perhaps because its author isn’t as dully academic about monster stories as I am, but most likely because it’s a plain old good novel, one that engages ideas without piling them too high or too heavily onto a rollicking plot.Steve Himmer of Necessary Fiction
Buckingham weaves and intricate storyline and tells a good tale. His intimate knowledge of his subject shows through in his light and confident touch.”Raw Edge Magazine
What a wonderfully unexpected book! A fantastical story full of comedy and adventure and a story-line that can rightly be described as exotic. Great and serious fun!”West Midlands Readers' Network
About the Orang Pendek
Orang Pendek myths – tales of short, human-like creatures that live out in the forest – are common in many parts of Indonesia. As I was writing this book, in Liang Bua cave in Flores, scientists discovered the remains of what they said was a new species of prehistorical human, Homo floresiensiss. The media dubbed the new species the ‘hobbit’. Whether any orang pendek survived down to historical times or not, it seems to me not unlikely that the tales from Indonesia reflect, at the very least, folk memories of living side by side other human creatures of a different species.
The island of Kenukecil does not exist. It was invented for the purposes of this book. Kenukecil means ‘Little Kenu’, whilst Kenubesar (which you can see on the map below) means ‘Big Kenu’. You will see that there has been some cartographic confusion when it comes to the naming of the two islands.
I imagine Kenukecil as being situated somewhat to the South-west of the Tanimbar Islands in south-east Maluku, Indonesia.
Cargo Fever is set in Maluku, which is in the East of Indonesia. Maluku is a fascinating part of the world. I spent six months in the Tanimbar Islands back in 1994-1995, where I was carrying out research into folk art. You can find a little website with some of the research results up at Tanimbar.org.uk.
Some readers have protested that the novel is fantastical to the point of absurdity. But much of it is drawn directly from life. So, for example, most of the traditional medical procedures are not only authentic, but were practised on me whilst I was in Indonesia. And as for the American anthropologist, Aletheia Groeber, she is an amalgam of two different stories that I heard whilst in Tanimbar. The first was about an American woman with a private plane who came to Tanimbar in pursuit of her husband, who was running away from her. She didn’t find him, so she flew off elsewhere, still in pursuit. The second story was about an anthropologist who was studying the sex lives of savages (this was the story my Tanimbarese friends told me). She came to Tanimbar in search of a ‘savage’ to marry; but finding that the Tanimbarese were far too civilised, she headed off instead to Irian Jaya.
I have no idea if these stories were true or not; but they were relatively unexceptional amongst the many strange tales I heard in the Tanimbar islands.
My much belated travel memoir of Indonesia, Stealing with the Eyes: Imaginings and Incantations in Indonesia was published by Haus Publishing in 2018.
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